Daily Archives: May 10, 2004

Should Rumsfeld Stay?

Jeff at Notes on the Atrocities has written a post in which he commits what he calls “liberal apostasy” by arguing that Rumsfeld shouldn’t resign. His argument is mostly political–

Strategically, I question the value of firing a Defense Secretary six months before an election. Things are critical in Iraq now, and the distraction and vacuum created by his departure won’t improve things in the short term. In fact, it’s a lot easier to see how the absentee oversight of the past year will only worsen if Rummy gets the ax. There’s a certain calculation here–I wouldn’t make this argument if I thought Bush was going to win re-election.Also, I don’t think it helps Democrats to score a political victory. Their target isn’t Rumsfeld per se, but the policies of the Bush administration. Trying to get Rummy fired is an effort to win a symbolic victory at the expense of the ideological war. Rummy is a footsoldier in the neocon rationale for invading Iraq; while getting him fired would be a rebuke of that rationale, it would remain symbolic. It’s far more potent politically to have the shamed Rumsfeld in the administration where he is an ongoing symbol of Bush’s Iraq failure. Remove him and the Bushies can move on. Keep him, and you have a constant reminder that this administration let torture happen (or worse–encouraged it).

–but I must say I have my doubts that ‘shame’ will play much part in Bush’s re-election, at least as far as Rummy is concerned. The shame that will count is the shame of the country that Abu Ghraib was allowed to happen, a shame that has to be laid right at Junior’s door or it doesn’t count for much. Rumsfeld is a side-issue.

I also don’t buy the ‘distraction’ argument. To be blunt, I think it’s silly. The situation in Iraq is so bone-balls screwed up that whether a new SecDef ‘distracts’ from the effort or not hardly matters. The idea that the ‘absentee oversight’ of the BA could get any worse is almost irony. A change of command would dump re-organization and cleaning-up duties right in the laps of the military authorities where they belong. Myers, Sanchez and Abizaid are under the gun; they’ve got no choice now but to straighten out the mess, SecDef or no SecDef.

Jeff allows as how there’s good reason for Ruymmy to go–‘The one mitigating argument, and it’s a very good one, is that the world needs to see Rummy’s head on a plate.’–but thinks that in the end it could backfire.

I agree that the biggest consequence of this debacle is our damaged standing in the world–and therefore our increased vulnerability to terrorists. But firing Rummy won’t actually change the policies that have enraged the world. The key neocons–Cheney, Condi, Wolfowitz–are still guiding policy. Rummy was actually an old cold warrior–more a Kissinger type than a neocon. Firing him may please the world, but it could have grave consequences in removing heat on the abysmal policy rationales that got us here in the first place.Rummy’s ultimately responsible for the torture. But firing him won’t prevent similar abuses in the future. Perversely, keeping him on the job may.

I doubt it. There’s no reason to believe Rumsfeld is in any way chastened and because of it is liable to be more careful or change his stripes. Maybe Jeff didn’t see or hear the end of Rumsfeld’s day of testimony. Going by the beginning you just might get the idea that he realized something was wrong, or at least that he wasn’t going to get away with pretending there wasn’t. Stay through to the end and you find the old Rumsfeld emerging from his temporary shell, snarling and snapping contemptuously at any suggestion that what happened was unusual or that he was in any way responsible for any of it.

But to say I disagree with Jeff’s reasoning is not to say I disagree with his conclusion. I don’t, but for an entirely different reason: The fact of the matter is that if Rumsfeld goes, whoever succeeds him is almost certainly going to be worse. A lot worse. If you doubt this, stay up into the wee hours tonight, lock your doors, pull down your shades, and turn off all the lights. Then, into the deep, dank, depressing darkness of 3am, whisper the name ‘Paul Wolfowitz’ and feel the chill in your spine, murmur the epithet ‘Richard Perle’ and experience the hairs standing up on the back of your neck. This is what I call the ‘Robert Bork’ argument: don’t reject a bad candidate when you have reason to suspect his replacement will take you a few steps further down toward Hell.

Those calling for Rummy to resign are speculating dreamily about a Powell replacement. This is fantasy, people, It ain’t gonna happen. The NWB’s are still very much in charge, as Jeff says, and Powell isn’t one of them. Cheney will go before Powell takes over Defense, and Cheney’s going nowhere.

We might as well leave Rumsfeld right where he is. We have nothing to gain by driving him out, which is why he’ll go whether we urge it or not: Junior needs him gone, for all the reasons Jeff points out. He’s an albatross around the campaign’s neck, and Karl knows it. Bush has to at least give the appearance of cleaning house, and Rummy–with Paul and Richie waiting in the wings–is the most dispensable scapegoat at hand. Oh, he’ll go alright, and he knows it. And Jeff is right about this: It won’t be a victory for us.

Which New York Times Op-Ed Columnist Am I?

Bob Herbert
You are Bob Herbert! You’re not the most sparkling
writer, but one of the most solid and selfless
on the Op-Ed staff. You focus on New York
politics, the poor, race issues, and civil
liberties. You like to quote others, and rarely
place yourself in your columns. You keep it
real. Seriously.

Which New York Times Op-Ed Columnist Are You?
brought to you by Quizilla

I wish.

More Criminals Than Terrorists

The evidence has been growing practically from the day the PATRIOT Act was passed that law enforcement agencies have been using its provisions to trap criminal suspects rather than suspected terrorists. No particular surprise there, we all knew they would. What we didn’t expect is that it would turn out there were more terrorists than criminals in America.

WASHINGTON — Secret surveillance warrants in terrorism and espionage cases have eclipsed criminal wiretaps for the first time, and the statistics are raising red flags among open government advocates.Federal and state courts approved a total of 1,442 interceptions of wire, oral or electronic communications for criminal cases in 2003, according to statistics released by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts last week. By comparison, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court issued 1,724 warrants in terrorism and espionage cases last year, according to recently released Justice Department figures.

The targets of the terrorism and espionage warrants approved by the ultra-secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court are never informed about their surveillance.

The warrants last far longer than those issued by other courts, with little oversight to ensure intelligence is being gathered. And they can be approved even if law enforcement agents do not meet standards of probable cause for a criminal case.

“That these warrants are becoming the major form of surveillance in this country is very troubling,” said Tim Edgar, legislative director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Washington office. “They are shifting surveillance from a court where there is less secrecy, more oversight and a probable cause standard to a court where there is more secrecy, no oversight and no probable cause statute.”

The major reason for the large number is, of course, the ultra-low standard of proof. I’d be willing to bet that if we saw a list of the suspects’ names (we won’t), virtually all of them would have Arabic or Arabic-sounding surnames. Since 9/11, some 90% of the people arrested, detained, or deported for having suspected ties to ‘terrorist organizations’ have been either Arabs or Sikhs (who look like Arabs to profilers). They have been denied lawyers, hearings, and in many cases explanations for their treatment. Researchers who have looked into the groups on the govt’ watch-list say it includes charitable organizations that have never had a hint of irregularity attached to them; Arab-American leaders say many of the deportees were doing no more than sending money home to their families; and all say that at the very least the whole process is a mish-mosh of inaccurate information, incomplete investigation, and innuendo passing as evidence.

The high number of wiretaps revealed today suggests very strongly that in the wake of the failure to detect the 9/11 cabal, law enforcement agencies are going on massive fishing expeditions, and that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court is letting them do it. It may have no choice; Ashcroft’s law is so broadly stroked that people can be–and have been–detained because they were reading the wrong book, wearing the wrong t-shirt, or maintaining the wrong websites.

The good news is that the over-zealousness of the tappers is making a lot of people in Congress nervous, even Republicans. The wide latitude, a standard of proof that doesn’t amount to much more than ‘We think he might be connected in some way to a terrorist organization, or maybe somebody in his family is. One of his friends must be!’ is giving everybody the jitters. As well it should.

Junior has been stumping the country, playing up how important the PA is and playing down how poor its results have been. Ashcroft is twisting Congressional arms first to make PA I’s ‘sunset provisions’ permanent, and second to get PA II–which extends PA I’s invasions even further–passed as quickly as possible. The Publican leadership is Bush’s domestic puppet govt, but they’re facing a potential open revolt over both of Ashcroft’s goals. PA II has been languishing in committee for months, and moderate Republicans–a majority of them–have been back-pedaling and foot-dragging over the sunsets, voicing legitimate concerns about the damage to the Constitution and patent disbelief in the sunsets’ efficacy.

Encourage them if you get the chance. The sunsets should be allowed to die, and PA II should never see the light of day. Things are bad enough without adding them to brew.